From Vienna to Vorarlberg, from Tyrol to Carinthia - we show you typical carnival customs in Austria and tell you where to celebrate best.
Why do Austrians celebrate Carnival?
The ancient Egyptians included it in their religious rituals, in ancient Rome it was an important part of the culture and even the Celts celebrated it: "Fasching", also known as Carnival. For centuries the so-called "fifth season" has been heralded and celebrated year after year. Unless if for the worship of the gods, to drive away evil spirits or to get the new year off to a good start - they all had one thing in common: colourful processions, exuberant celebrations and creative masquerades. Even today this still plays an important role at the many different carnival celebrations in Austria. But the motive is now a different one. Today, the carnival period is primarily used to celebrate the so-called "fat days" before the beginning of Lent.
Usually the fasting period lasts two up to six weeks, serves to prepare for Easter and to abstain from certain food (for example sugar, meat or fats). In order to have a really good time beforehand, the Austrians celebrate the "sweet life" once again extensively during the carnival period.
When do Austrians celebrate Carnival?
Similar to other European countries, there are no fixed dates in Austria. Although there are fixed days, such as Ash Wednesday, on which Lent officially begins, these days are dependent on Easter and therefore vary from year to year. In Austria, people traditionally celebrate for five days - from Shrove Saturday to Ash Wednesday. But it is becoming increasingly common to have parties and events in advance.
What are typical carnival customs in Austria?
Today, Carnival in Austria is being associated with one thing above all: parades and celebrations. What should definitely not be missing? Dressing up! From angel to devil, from clown to vampire - creativity knows no bounds at carnival celebrations. Also the famous "Faschingskrapfen" are known and loved in all provinces of Austria. Traditionally, the doughnut are just available with apricot jam, but in the meantime, people are turning a blind eye and the pastries are also available with vanilla or chocolate filling, for example.
Legend has it that the carnival doughnut was created during a marital dispute between the old Viennese court councillor cook Cäcilie Krapf and her husband. In a fury, the cook threw a piece of yeast dough at her husband, who ducked and the dough landed in the boiling fat. The Krapfen was born!
Where are the best carnival celebrations in Austria?
Carnival in Salzburg
Salzburg is one of the federal states where carnival is written in capital letters. It is not without reason that Austria's oldest carnival guild can be found here. As an impartial association, it makes numerous people laugh with wit and charm every year. Further highlights are the legendary Clown Party on the shuttle mountain Flachauwinkl-Kleinarl or the big carnival parade in the Rauris Valley. Numerous decorated floats and people in disguise parade through the picturesque valley from 1 pm onwards.
Carnival in Vorarlberg
There are also some carnival customs and festivals in Vorarlberg. Apart from festive carnival processions, such as the Feldkirch carnival procession, the old customs and rituals are particularly important in Vorarlberg. For example the burning of sparks is one of these traditions. On the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday individual torches are gradually lit at various locations in Vorarlberg, creating a unique sea of lights. Legend has it that this is how the winter demons are driven out. Very atmospheric and our secret tip: the Montafon torch burning.
Carnival in Upper Austria
In Upper Austria, carnival is particularly popular in the small community of Ebensee. Numerous surrounding communities and tourists from all over the world arrive here year after year during carnival time. The highlight is clearly the Ebensee Carnival Parade on Shrove Monday. The participants dress up in old women's clothes, wear a hat made of rags and a carved wooden mask. Until late at night, the celebration continues with atmospheric music and good humour. In 2011, this art and festival became an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Carnival in Lower Austria
Compared to the other federal provinces, Lower Austria is rather quiet during carnival time, but nevertheless carnival enthusiasts and party lovers can enjoy a few parades and celebrations here too. The ball in the Umschaid cellar is one of the very special of its kind. In cosy old cellars the "Weinviertel Ball Season" is opened with good music and wine. On the other hand, the carnival processions in Tulln or Mödling are a bit bigger - lots of fun, music and entertainment included!
Carnival in Tyrol
If anyone has actually made carnival to its fifth season, it is the Tyroleans. With a lot of passion and joy, numerous Tyroleans who are fond of celebrating go through the streets every year and transform the third largest federal state into a party mekka. From place to place there are different traditions, customs and festivals, which always attract an international audience. Especially worth mentioning is the Axamer Wampelerreiten. In the village above Innsbruck, on "nonsensical Thursday", i.e. Thursday before Ash Wednesday, the battle between winter and spring is fought every year in the form of a role play. But also the Mullerlauf around Innsbruck and Hall provides a lot of entertainment and also a little bit of horror.
Carnival in Styria
Of course carnival is also celebrated in Styria. The famous carnival race in Krakautal valley is clearly in the focus. On Shrove Monday, the masked carnival racers storm from door to door, driving away the winter and evil demons. The whole thing is accompanied by a group of dressed up musicians and onlookers. In Bad Aussee you will find the counterpart of the so-called "drum women". With drums, trumpets and dressed in nightdresses, numerous men parade through the town on Shrove Monday and Tuesday, chasing away the demons of winter according to tradition. Similar activities can also be found at the carnival race in Ranten or St. Peter am Kammersberg.
Carnival in Carinthia
In Cologne "Alaaf", in Carinthia "Lei Lei!" Anyone who has ever been to Carinthia at carnival time has certainly heard the exclamation. No matter if at carnival meetings, processions, cabarets or celebrations - the Lei Lei belongs to Carinthia like the Amen to the church. Because one thing is certain: carinthians love their carnival! Not without reason, Villach is called the capital of fools in Austria. On Shrove Saturday, the foolish hustle and bustle reaches its peak with the Villach carnival. Throughout the town, young and old are offered a wide range of activities, from carnival parades to children's programmes. Even in shops, restaurants and bars you can meet masked staff on this day.
Carnival in Vienna
Indeed, up to one million doughnuts are eaten in Vienna every year on Shrove Tuesday, but those who are looking for old customs and traditions here will search in vain. Even if there are isolated activities and parties, like the big carnival procession in Simmering, the carnival time in Vienna has no real cult status. However, it never gets boring in the capital of Austria, as the carnival season usually coincides with the start of the ball season. Besides the famous Vienna Opera Ball, the Bonbon Ball in the Vienna Konzerthaus is also an annual highlight.
Carnival in Burgenland
In Burgenland, one thing is particularly important during carnival time: fun and cabaret. The Güssinger Fastnachtskabarett has been an absolute highlight and classic of the Burgenland carnival for many decades. On Shrove Tuesday, however, Carnival is being celebrated in a historical and beautiful ambience at the Shrovetide Ball in the Esterházy Castle. Fans of carnival parades are in good hands in Gols. Besides the parade, excellent live music and a concluding "fool's party", you can even expect the coronation of a prince and princess couple.
How are you going to celebrate your Carnival this year?
No specific plans for carnival? You would like to get to know the carnival culture in Austria for real? No problem! Book your next flight to Vienna right here and conquer the carnival scene in Austria: